Surviving an Asthma Attack

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

For those who suffer from asthma or live with someone who does it is necessary to not only understand what the symptoms of an attack are and how to treat them but it is also important to understand the physiology behind an attack.

An asthma attack can be caused by over exertion (such as in physical activity), exposure to an allergen or severe stress. Tiny tubes in the lungs, called bronchioles, respond to any of the aforementioned stimuli and became inflamed, limiting the amount of oxygen that can pass through and be used by the body. The body increases its production of a filmy fluid called mucus that further inhibits an adequate passage of air.

As the body tries to correct for the reduced air flow, it alerts you with specific symptoms. Outward, physical manifestations of an asthma attack often include wheezing, coughing, labored breathing, pale skin, dizziness and/or fainting. Severe attacks are characterized by the same symptoms with an addition of tightened neck muscles and expulsion of mucus. Most asthma attacks come on gradually (anywhere from a matter of minutes to several days) and as they do, symptoms worsen.

With the onset of an attack the most important thing to do is recognize the attack for what it is before symptoms worsen. Once an asthma attack is diagnosed or suspected (remember that is always more important to be safe than sorry), it is important to remain around others (who can aid or call for assistance) but with enough room to be comfortable and not worsen symptoms by feelings of claustrophobia.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you will most likely be carrying an inhaler which should be used promptly. If someone in the nearby vicinity is carrying an over-the-counter epinephrine inhaler (a chemical that aids in allergic reactions) this may also be used until medical assistance arrives. Avoid taking any cough medications or any medications offered to you by a stranger. Cough medication can exacerbate symptoms and cause you far more harm than good.

If you have never experienced an asthma attack and feel symptoms worsen call 911. It is important to never try to diagnose yourself because some asthma attacks appear similar to a deadly form of allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. If you remain calm during the attack it will speed up your recovery. Remember to ask your doctor if your attacks increase in frequency or intensity.

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